Shawn Atleo stepped down as head of the Assembly of First Nations yesterday, a victim of the norovirus which has been ravaging North America's population. His absence, we were told, will be "brief." But, if he read Michael Harris' column yesterday, Atleo might consider extending his leave. Harris wrote that he co-operated in a classic Harper strategy -- divide and conquer:
First, he destroyed the official unity of his organization. That is a big gift to the PM, a master of the Rovian game of divide-and-conquer politics. Thanks to Atleo, it will be much easier for Harper to pull the wings off the troublesome new pest that took over Ottawa last week: authentic native pride.
Second, it is just a matter of time before Atleo is ostracized by his own community for abandoning the wishes of his chiefs, and the Idle No More movement that has inspired them. Never again will Atleo be trusted with a mandate to negotiate anything, the possible exception being his severance package as national chief.
Finally, Atleo legitimized the federal government’s treatment of Chief Theresa Spence. He did that by breaking with the chiefs who supported her and agreeing to a meeting without Spence, key chiefs, and the Governor-General. And he made this accommodation after the government smeared Chief Spence with a strategic audit leak on Attawapiskat the day before the “big” meeting. The Harper government, with Atleo in tow, had its Marie-Antoinette moment on Friday: “Let them eat fish broth.”
It was not a ringing endorsement of Atleo's leadership. After all, Atleo came away from the meeting with nothing -- except a promise to hold more meetings. But there is a rising native generation who are very unhappy:
They’ve had it with the runaround on their constitutional rights. They know that Bill C-45 is an existential issue for their community, a power grab by the Harper government, and they will not easily be led by a man who wouldn’t go to the wall to fight that.
So Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike. And Stephen Harper has dodged a bullet -- for now:
There is only one short-term winner in this mess: the prime minister. If throwing the apple of discord were an Olympic event, Stephen Harper would be a lock for gold. He has divided the opposition — again.
We're headed for an Aboriginal Spring, which could get very uncomfortable. And Mr. Atleo has been snookered.